2012-09-13 / Front Page

Tri-State Health Appealing Tax Assessment

Tri-State, JLG civil trials to be heard October 26
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

NEWS EDITOR

A real estate tax assessment appeal slated to be heard last week in the Fulton County Court of Common Pleas has been rescheduled for late October.

On Friday morning, September 7, Judge Richard J. Walsh of the Court of Common Pleas was scheduled to hear the case involving Tri-State Community Health Center Inc. versus the Fulton County Board of Tax Revision and Assessment.

Originally filed June 14, 2011, through the county court system, the appeal by Tri-State’s attorney Cynthia A. Yeager is based on a prior decision made by the county’s board of tax revision and assessment dated May 17, 2011.

In the documents, attorney Yeager maintains Tri-State Community Health Center located at 525 Fulton Drive, McConnellsburg, is identified by the state Department of Revenue as a “charitable organization.” As a result, Tri- State has been issued a “sales and use tax certificate of exemption.”

“The property is used as a community health care facility to provide accessible, comprehensive primary and preventative medical and health care services to the residents of Fulton County, Pennsylvania, and adjacent areas on a sliding fee scale with varying discounts available based on the patient’s family size and income in accordance with the Federal Poverty Guidelines and no person is denied such services at the facility due to an inability to pay,” Yeager said.

Yeager went on to say the property was assessed during the 2011 tax year at $656,400.

In reviewing a letter from the former board of county commissioners and tax assessment board comprised of Bonnie Mellott Keefer, Craig Cutchall and David Hoover II to Tri-State, the county states that in order for Tri-State to prove it is “purely public charity” it must possess all of the following characteristics: “advances a charitable purpose; donates or renders gratuitously a substantial portion of its services; benefits a substantial and indefinite class of persons who are legitimate subjects to charity; relieves the government of some of its burden; and operates entirely free from private profit motive.”

“You emphasize that you believed you should be exempt from real estate tax assessment because you are exempt from paying federal income tax. Pennsylvania case law has held that it is irrelevant that Tri-State is exempt for paying federal income tax ... ” the commissioners said. “We have looked at your information and applied the Hospital Utilization Project (HUP) test and we do not believe that you have met the heavy burden of providing you are a ‘purely public charity.’ ”

The matter has been rescheduled for 9 a.m. on Friday, October 26, at the Fulton County Courthouse. The date coincides with the date and time of the pending tax appeal filed by JLG Industries Inc. against the county, Central Fulton School District and Ayr Township.

Tentatively representing JLG in the matter is attorney John C. Hyon, of Clifton, NJ., while solicitor Roberta Binder Heath is scheduled to represent the school. Stanley Kerlin will serve in the capacity of legal counsel for both the county and Ayr Township.

The matter dates back to October 4, 2011, when former commissioners Keefer and Hoover along with Cutchall sat down as the Fulton County Board of Assessment Appeals for the purpose of an appeal hearing. Nearly three weeks later, the board handed down a decision that denied a reduction in the tax assessment and therefore redesignated the company’s assessed values at $26,870 for land and $7,310,100 for improvements. The assessment is based on a total of 59.99 acres on the east side of Cito Road as well as an estimated 512,810 square feet of building space.

According to attorney Hyon in a petition for appeal, the county’s assessment of the property is “substantially higher than assessments of comparable properties in the taxing district.”

“The assessment is based upon an erroneous determination of the fair market value ...” alleged Hyon, who further maintains the assessment and value determination violates not only the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment but also the Uniformity Clause of the state Constitution.

Hyon added the assessment, “lacks uniformity ... is discriminatory ... and is otherwise unjust and inequitable.” As a result, JLG, through its legal counsel, is requesting a reversal of the prior decision of the Assessment Appeal Board and therefore a reduction in the assessment.

In the event JLG Industries’ request for a lowering of the assessed value of its property is upheld by the Court of Common Pleas, the Central Fulton School District could stand to lose $57,000 in tax revenue. In addition, the county’s loss would be approximately $20,000.

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